In any movie that uses animals, it’s typical to see that phrase “No animals were harmed” running in the credits. Designed to put audiences at ease and ensure that animals aren’t treated poorly during the making of movies, one would think that it’s appearance at the end of films would be pretty straightforward. No animals were harmed… right?

Dog in Hollywood movie

The AHA’s “No Animals Were Harmed” label isn’t always deserved.
Image: Shutterstock

Gary Baum of The Hollywood Reporter is certainly not convinced, and you probably shouldn’t be, either. In an article called “Animals Were Harmed,” Baum presents stunning evidence that animal abuse and deaths have been pushed under the rug. The American Humane Association, the nonprofit organization in charge of monitoring TV and film productions for animal welfare, is now being called out for misleading audiences for the purpose of maintaining a good relationship with Hollywood directors and producers.

What’s the evidence? King, the Bengal tiger used in the filming of The Life of Pi, almost drowned during filming in 2011—a fact that was deliberately covered up by the AHA’s Gina Johnson. In 2012, 27 sheep and goats died during a hiatus in filming for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from “dehydration and exhaustion or from drowning in water-filled gullies… at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained.”

2006’s Eight Below, a husky dog was punched in the diaphragm repeatedly. That same year, a trainer dropped and fatally stepped on a chipmunk while filming Failure to Launch. And after four days’ worth of filming for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, dozens of dead fish and squid washed ashore.

Yet, somehow, these productions all carried that lovely “No animals were harmed” label. One AHA staffer attributes part of the problem to limited resources.

“Reps get sent to multiple sets in a day, which means we can check off a set as ‘covered’ even though we only stayed there for five minutes,” the staffer said. “I feel that, more and more, this is done not to make sure we at least see the trainers and animals and make sure that it’s not a horrible situation, but rather to keep the numbers up and make it look like we are monitoring more than we actually are.”

The AHA is, understandably, under serious fire for these claims. Candy Spelling, a national AHA board member tried to put some fires out, saying, “I think what people think [the end credit means] is that when a horse dies in the movies, it didn’t really die… I think that people think [the AHA monitoring] is just when the cameras are rolling.”

Unfortunately for Ms. Spelling, and the rest of AHA, animal lives do matter, even when the camera’s not rolling. The AHA is supposed to be present, monitoring movie sets to ensure that animals aren’t being mistreated. It would be understandable if the group simply admitted to not being able to devote the time and resources to monitoring each set—rather than pretending that they are doing so and giving away the “no animals were harmed” label to productions that really don’t deserve it.